Are Los Altos’ politics, design & finance lined up for great things to happen?

Are Los Altos’ politics, design & finance lined up for great things to happen?

Interesting ideas from a recent New York Times item – What Design Brings to New York’s Table (

“The primary responsibility of [the urban design division of the New York City Department of City Planning]… is making the civic Cityscape, streets included, a more palatable place, with space for pedestrians to ambulate, explore, and, when the site is right, linger.”


“The team studies what makes great places: the width of the sidewalk, the spacing of street trees, the diversity of retail – and they integrate these details in our plans, turning projects into places that people want to be.”


“… nothing great is going to happen in a city unless you can get politics, design and finance to line up together.”

Are Los Altos’ politics, design & finance lined up for great things to happen?

What makes for successful cities?

What makes for successful cities?

A recent New York Times article about chaos on the web analogized it to the chaos that makes for successful cities:

“The most successful cities achieve a kind of organized chaos — a rich, dense and varied mix of different kinds of people, ideas and businesses, constantly colliding in new and interesting ways”, observed urban activist Jane Jacobs in her 1961 landmark book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”


“Ms. Jacobs prized chaos, but not the kind that marginalized or terrorized those living in it. She advocated a kind of beautiful disarray that may look hectic from the outside, but is actually safe for those within. ‘Cities,’ she wrote, ‘have the capability of providing something for everybody only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.’”

(When the Web’s Chaos Takes an Ugly Turn, By Jenna Wortham, October 20, 2012, New York Times )

How can everybody in Los Altos be meaningfully engaged in evolving it as a successful city?

A Los Altos experiment in democracy: increasing downtown vibrancy

George Washington said, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

Since May of 2011, many concerned Los Altans have been gathering in vacant retail spaces in downtown Los Altos to experiment with ways to collaborate and improve the community – a local effort to advance the American experiment in democracy, if you will.


The group, which named itself Los Altos Forward late last year, is making a difference in our community:


  • Organizing events the First Friday of each month.
  • Organizing Community Conversations for members of the community to meet experts and learn about ways to enhance the downtown core, including former Redwood City Manager Ed Everett, Project for Public Spaces Founder and President Fred Kent and Vice President Kathy Madden, and Architect William Maston.
  • Provided testimony on the Final Environmental Impact Report for South Parking Plazas 1, 2 and 3, which encouraged the City to increase community involvement in the process of developing a possible Request For Proposals for the public/private development of those plazas.
  • Helped to save two old London Plane (hybrid Sycamore) trees on First Street that the City planned to cut down as part of the First Street Streetscape.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, encouraged community-wide participation from residents of all ages of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, property owners, business owners, City Council members, City staff, City commission members, and members of various organizations, including LAVA, the Chamber of Commerce, LANN, and GreenTown Los Altos.


The fun, constructive sharing of ideas and the turnout of people who want to improve Los Altos has been overwhelming. Los Altos Forward meets the first and third Tuesday of each month to advance ideas on how to increase the vibrancy of downtown Los Altos.


Alexis De Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “Americans of all ages, conditions, and all dispositions constantly unite together…. In democratic countries, the knowledge of how to form associations is the mother of all knowledge since the success of all the others depends on it.”


We invite you to join this local contribution to the American experiment in democracy – an experiment in how Los Altans can effectively form associations to collaborate to improve the community.  All members of the community are welcome.  For information about upcoming gatherings, send an email to